Former world featherweight champion dies in Connecticut

Former featherweight champion of the world Willie Pep died Thursday at West Hill Convalescent Home in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, at the age of 84. Pep had been in failing health in recent years and was suffering from Alzheimer’sp.

Former featherweight champion of the world

Pep was born Guglielmo Papaleo on Sept. 19, 1922, in Middletown, Conn., and grew up on the mean streets of Depression-era Hartford’s East Side. He honed his incredible defensive skills while working as a shoeblack hustling on street corners.

“I was an 11-year-old kid,” Pep recalled during an interview several years ago. “Back then, you had to get there early because it was a good spot. If you got there late, somebody would take your spot.

“I weighed about 89 pounds soaking wet. The big guys would pick on me and so I had to fight them. Once you fight them they will leave you alone.

“I was a scrappy kid that they tried to push around, but I wouldn’t let them. I didn’t know anything about boxing then. I was just a kid, but I knew enough not to get hit.”

Pep started training at the Charter Oak Gym. He won his first pro fight in Hartford on July 3, 1940. Pep won the Connecticut flyweight championship in 1938, the state bantamweight title in 1939, and the New England featherweight championship on July 21, 1942.

Willie Pep twice won the featherweight crown. At the age of 20 year he won a 15-round decision and the title from Chalky Wright at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 20, 1942. Pep made six successful defenses before losing to Sandy Saddler on Oct. 29, 1948. He regained the title with a 15-round decision over Saddler on Feb. 11, 1949, at the Garden.

Pep retired from boxing in 1959 following back-to-back losses to journeymen. He came out of retirement in 1965 at the age of 42 and had ten more fights, before retiring for good with a record of 229-11-1, 65 KOs on March 3, 1966.

Willie Pep was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.

Bert Sugar described Pep as a moonbeam. You couldn’t catch him Pep was music in the ring. People were rhapsodic over him. He was amazing. He did have 65 knockouts. Most of those people fell down in exhaustion from watching him.”